Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Manifold Destiny

The New Yorker published a rather fascinting (and rather long) piece about a month ago about the people involved in the proof of the Poincaré conjecture (guess we can start getting used to it being called a theorem now). I started reading it as I hoped to discover more about Grigori Perelman, and the article indeed provides plenty of information about him, but also provides insight into the politics of the mathematical communities, and much more.

Here's the article authors' rather amusing account of the quite unconventional way they managed to meet with Perelman:

Before we arrived in St. Petersburg, on June 23rd, we had sent several messages to his e-mail address at the Steklov Institute, hoping to arrange a meeting, but he had not replied. We took a taxi to his apartment building and, reluctant to intrude on his privacy, left a book—a collection of John Nash’s papers—in his mailbox, along with a card saying that we would be sitting on a bench in a nearby playground the following afternoon. The next day, after Perelman failed to appear, we left a box of pearl tea and a note describing some of the questions we hoped to discuss with him. We repeated this ritual a third time. Finally, believing that Perelman was out of town, we pressed the buzzer for his apartment, hoping at least to speak with his mother. A woman answered and let us inside. Perelman met us in the dimly lit hallway of the apartment. It turned out that he had not checked his Steklov e-mail address for months, and had not looked in his mailbox all week. He had no idea who we were.

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